A seed planted by West Virginia University professor Jim Rye has blossomed at the White House.

On Wednesday (Oct. 30), students from North Elementary School in Morgantown were recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama for their efforts in healthy eating – thanks in part to Rye’s involvement.

In 2011, Rye, a master gardener and professor in the College of Education and Human Services, helped establish gardens in North Elementary’s backyard as part of a grant from the Lowes Charitable and Educational Foundation. The gardens, dubbed ‘Panther Pride Gardens’ by students, provide fresh produce for the school cafeteria.

Because of the school’s healthy foods initiative, First Lady Obama invited five North Elementary students to the kitchen garden of the White House.

In addition to Rye, North Elementary Principal Natalie Webb and teacher Laura Vanhorn began the gardens as a way to encourage STEM learning among students.

The benefits of being able to provide healthy food to the school cafeteria is a plus, says Rye. The main purpose of the gardens is to engage children in an atmosphere where they can apply subjects like mathematics and reading to scientific purposes. When tending to the various flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens, students learn how to calculate area and volume, or study plant anatomy.

“Garden-based learning provides a meaningful context in which to apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Rye said. “At North Elementary, students investigate different conditions for germinating seeds, measure and partition raised beds for transplanting seedlings, and utilize technology from horticultural research such as the EarthBox®, which is designed through engineering to conserve water and enhance plant growth.

“With engineering taking on increased importance as a part of the grades K-12 Next Generation Science Standards, school gardening provides elementary learners with real world opportunities to design and test solutions to problems, such as how to support plants that trellis.”

Panther Pride Gardens has grown substantially since 2011. In addition to taking their produce to the summer farmer’s market in Morgantown, 2013 is the first year students will sell produce such as winter bibb lettuce, arugula and raccoon spinach at the winter farmer’s market. Rye and his colleagues are also working with the College of Education’s Mountaineer Educational CREATE Center, a satellite program of Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab, and are currently using the GigaPan project to teach children about the science behind the gardens.

If the program receives more funding, Rye plans to extend the gardening initiative to other schools in area.

-WVU-

dt/10/31/13

CONTACT: Christie Zachary, College of Education and Human Services
304.293.0224; Christie.Zachary@mail.wvu.edu

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